Sciatica is one our patients’ most common complaints. Many do not realise that their symptoms are not actually classified medically as sciatica but are instead due to referred pain from other muscles or joints. Our osteopaths are able to treat both types of complaint anyway.
Symptoms of sciatica
Real sciatica is an irritation of the sciatic nerve. It presents with shooting pain that runs down the back of the leg. This may be only in the hamstring region, but may also go through the calf muscle to the ankle. There is often associated weakness, numbness, and tingling in the leg and foot.
Referred pain however may present as pain in the quad muscle, down the side of the leg or pain in the groin. Pain can vary from a nagging dull ache to strong pain but is not usually described as shooting pain.
Causes of sciatica
The sciatic nerve is a thick, long nerve that originates in your spine and travels through the buttocks and down into your hamstring and leg. Any pressure on the nerve can cause the symptoms experienced. This can be due to swelling around the nerve from sprained inflamed joints, intervertebral disc bulge or herniation, bony spurs from joint degeneration or arthritis, but can also caused by tension in the piriformis muscle, which is a muscle in the middle of your buttocks which the nerve either travels through or under (there are anatomical variants)
Osteopathic examination of sciatica
A precise case history including the type of symptoms you are getting and the reason they started will allow your osteopath to diagnose what is causing your pain. If you are experiencing true sciatica your osteopath will work to make sure that your piriformis and other buttock muscles are loosened off. They will also work with your lower back muscles and joints to improve their mobility and decrease their (??)
The osteopath will take a detailed case history to understand if there has been any previous injury, repetitive strain, surgery, illness or emotional stress that can have an impact on the biomechanics of the spine, pelvis and hips. Previous scans, x-rays and medical tests are also considered.
Careful osteopathic examination is then taken into consideration when assessing your sciatica. Osteopaths first look at how the joints and muscles in the spine are working and where the tension and tenderness is. This helps determine which joints or muscles are inflamed and what type of biomechanical imbalance or misalignment there is in the spine.
Osteopaths take a whole body, or holistic approach, so they also look at other regions of the body and determine whether they are impacting on the spinal dysfunction. This usually involves examining how the pelvis is working with the spine (i.e. your hips and tailbone), how the leg is working with your spine, and even how your upper body is contributing to the movement in your spine.
The aim of the osteopath is to relieve or reduce the pain and to help you get back to normal or improved movement and function.
Osteopathic treatment for sciatica
Research shows that osteopathic treatment for sciatica is effective. All of our osteopaths have many years of clinic experience in treating and managing sciatica.
We all use a very gentle technique that is very well tolerated by patients in strong pain. Whether it is acute, severe pain or a chronic long-term issue, patients are taken to a balance point to help avoid exacerbating the pain. There is very little movement needed from the person who is experiencing the lower back pain and they are very comfortable during treatment.
Apart from treating the spine the osteopath will also treat other areas of your body that are causing compensatory problems for the spine.
In conjunction with osteopathic treatment the osteopath may recommend some things that can be done after treatment to help manage pain. This may include rest, heat packs, gentle exercise and stretching, supplements, and improved postural changes to reduce repetitive strain e.g. how someone might sit at work. If x-rays are needed an osteopath can refer for a spinal x-ray. If other tests are needed an osteopath can refer you to your doctor.